May 5, 2014 By V.A Kabeer

Imam Sarqasi: Volumes Penned In a Well!


Many celebrated books were born in prison, which include novels, autobiographies, political and religious books. ‘A bunch of letters’ by Nehru, Tharjumanul Quran by Azad, manuscript of some parts of the Quran translation written by Gubare Katwir, Moududi and Sayyid Qutub, the biography of the prophet titled Hayate Thayyiba by Abdul Saleem Abdul Hayy can be seen among these. The story about Azad’s Quran translation is really amazing. The manuscript of the great work had been lost on the way to print. Yet Azad was able to re-create the whole text from his memory. A herculean task only Azad could undertake!

More wonderful is the story of the Arabic book Al – Mabsooth.  Nehru, Azad and Moududi, being political prisoners, were given all facilities to write. The story of Imam Sarqasi, author of Al -Mabsooth was entirely different from this. He (died in Hijra 490) was a renowned scholar in Hanafi school of thought. Religious scholars of that period of monarchy were not subservient like the rectors of Al Azhar or Mufti of Egypt of present era. Nor were they like the Indian Muslim priests who find pleasure in rubbing shoulders with Narendra Modi. The scholars of those days stood firmly with the people opposing the dark forces of power.

The wise and honest Sarqasi was imprisoned for raising his voice against  unjustifiable hike in tax rate imposed by the tyrant ruler. No facilities were accessible to the political prisoners then. Sarqasi was, in fact, not put in an ordinary prison. He was put in an abandoned well. He was forced to stay there for long 14 years. Seldom had he begged for the mercy of the rulers, except for one thing, that is, to grand him permission to meet the disciples who came to regularly see him. He compiled the book Al- Mabsooth which runs into 30 volumes in the loneliness of the well. The disciples who sat in the veiled corner of the well would take down the lines dictated by the master. Not only did he write Al-Mabsooth in this manner; but as many as ten books of his were born in the well. What is surprising about this novel way of knowledge production is that he dictated the four volumes of the interpretation of Shaibani’s Siyarul Kabeer without the aid of any reference material. Sarqasi’s interpretation of Siyarul Kabeer is one among the important early documents on international law.

The word siyar, plural of sira, is not used to mean biography as it is usually done. ‘sira’ connotes the stance of a ruler towards subjects of foreign communities during war and peace. Imam Sarqasi himself points this out in the work. He also explains that the same word denotes the attitude towards treason and rioters from within. Dr. Hameedullah who conducted research studies on this topic has made it clear that this usage has wider application than the term international law in the western context.

Shaibani, the disciple of Abu Haneefa has two books titled ‘Kitabu Siyari sageer’ and Kitabu Siyarul Kabeer on this topic of which Sarqasi composed an interpretation in four volumes. It is a miracle how Sarqasi wrote this great work without the help of any references. Dr. Hameedullah guesses that his disciples might have brought reference books and read out the relevant parts to him. Sarqasi might have then prompted his explanation.

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